Charlotte Street Partners

DAILY BRIEFING

DAILY BRIEFING

Wordleful Times

Written by Javier Maquieira, senior associate 
Edited by Iain Gibson, partner
2 February 2022

Good morning,

The history of crossword puzzles is fascinating. Created on the eve of the first world war by Arthur Wynne, an editor at the now defunct New York World, the game grew in popularity as the war and the paper’s commercial efforts to point enthusiastic cruciverbalists to the puzzle ramped up, ultimately becoming a necessary solace for many readers throughout and after the conflict.
 
While more and more newspapers on both sides of the Atlantic jumped on the crossword bandwagon throughout the 1920s and 1930s, one publication staunchly stood apart from what it considered a passing fad and a “primitive form of mental exercise”The New York Times. It was only after the attack on Pearl Harbor, and another war was underway, that the daily newspaper finally ran its first puzzle on 15 February 1942.
 
Almost exactly 80 years on from that momentous decision, the New York Times crossword puzzle has become the most prestigious crossword in the editorial world. It is currently syndicated to more than 300 other newspapers and journals, as well as mobile apps, and even has its own documentary film: Wordplay.
 
While current times can hardly be compared to the world wars, many readers would agree they are still worthy of moments of solace. It is therefore not surprising that in the age of Covid, social media, and fast-changing trends, Wordle has gone viral since it started popping up on Twitter feeds late last year.
 
In case you’ve also been wondering what those grey, green, and yellow tiles on your timeline mean, Wordle essentially is a free online word game that presents players with a mystery five-letter word to figure out each day within six tries. Letters then change colour to green or yellow the closer you get to guessing each day’s Wordle.
 
In a move that sits in stark contrast with its editorial positions of the early 20th century, the New York Times announced on Monday that it had agreed to buy Wordle from its creator, the Brooklyn-based software engineer Josh Wardle, for a price in the “low seven figures”. Wardle, who is originally from Wales, had begun to feel overwhelmed by the response to this global success, which is played by millions of people daily. 
 
The Times’ decision to acquire Wordle is far from an isolated move, though. Although new and existing players will “initially” be allowed to continue playing for free, the purchase is part of the newspaper’s strategy to boost its game portfolio and achieve its goal of ten million digital subscribers by 2025. It thus reflects the growing importance of games in its subscription model, which goes beyond its print newspaper and core digital news app to include a games app (Games), a recipe app (Cooking), and a product recommendation site (Wirecutter).
 
Gaming experts suggest part of Wordle’s appeal is that it reminds players of a more innocent age of the internet. This supports the idea that in complex times, we seek out simpler ways of keeping our minds off the problems at hand. In acquiring Wordle, perhaps the New York Times is not only taking a business opportunity but working towards its mission “to understand and engage with the world”, too. Even if it means eventually putting a free game enjoyed by many behind a paywall.

News

The president of Russia has accused the US of trying to draw his country into a war in Ukraine. In emotional remarks, Vladimir Putin said America’s objective was to use a confrontation as a pretext to impose more sanctions on Russia. He also told journalists the US was ignoring Russia’s demands that Nato remove troops and infrastructure from eastern Europe and agree never to accept Ukraine into the alliance.
 
Meanwhile, the UK prime minister has warned that a Russian invasion of Ukraine would be a “political disaster, a humanitarian disaster and a military disaster”. Speaking alongside Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky in a press conference held in Kyiv on Tuesday, Boris Johnson added that Britain will impose sanctions the “moment the first Russian toecap” breaches the border with the eastern European country.
 
Downing Street has changed its position on plans to keep secret any fine imposed on the prime minister as a result of the No 10 party scandal after opposition parties warned of a potential “cover up”. It came as a tenth Tory MP publicly called on Boris Johnson to resign and amid renewed anger at the prime minister following the publication of Sue Gray’s redacted report into lockdown-busting parties at No 10.

Business and economy

Marks & Spencer and Aldi have reached a settlement in a copyright row over caterpillar cakes. M&S, which had accused Aldi of copying its Colin the Caterpillar cake, said it was “pleased” with the outcome, while the German discounter said its Cuthbert the Caterpillar cake was “free” and “looking forward” to seeing his fans. Both supermarkets have declined to release details of the “confidential” deal.
 
The Institute for Fiscal Studies has warned that the UK government’s’ flagship levelling up policy threatens people experiencing financial hardship the most by making places central to their strategy, rather than poverty itself. The leading think tank added in its analysis that while places are at risk of losing out on economic growth and opportunities, “some of the UK’s poorest people also live in the country’s wealthy regions”, having found wages for the lowest earners in the UK are similar irrespective of location. 
 
According to the latest data from the British Retail Consortium, shop price inflation almost doubled in January to the highest level for nearly a decade as the cost of furniture and flooring shot up. Annual inflation of goods bought from retailers rose to 1.5% last month from 0.8% in December. The trade body has warned it will be “impossible” for the sector to shield shoppers from rising costs in the months ahead as the industry continues to face price pressures.

Columns of note

Writing in The Guardian, Lorenzo Codogno argues that while European Union member states have, on the whole, absorbed the shock of Brexit, the UK has seen trade go down and prices go up. Although the economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic inevitably blur into those of Britain’s withdrawal from the EU, he concludes, the impact of Brexit appears to be significantly more sizeable for the UK, causing major imbalances in hospitality, agriculture, transport and healthcare, as well as in some highly qualified jobs. 
 
Brooke Masters writes in the Financial Times about Edinburgh’s renewed ambitions to turn into “Silicon Glen”. While the Scottish capital appears to be on the road to becoming a world-class self-sustaining global tech hub, however, the city’s success is by no means guaranteed. (£)

Markets

What happened yesterday?

London stocks closed in the green on Tuesday, following a solid session on Wall Street overnight after a smorgasbord of data. The FTSE 100 ended the session up 0.96% at 7,535.78, while sterling was stronger both against the dollar by 0.46% at $1.35 and versus the euro by 0.39% at €1.20.
 
In the US, tech stocks closed slightly higher as investors braced themselves for a further batch of earnings reports. The technology-heavy Nasdaq Composite index rose 0.7%, while the blue-chip S&P 500 closed 0.7% higher.
 
In company news:
 
Virgin Money UK closed up 0.11% after the high street lender lifted its guidance for its net interest margin.
 
Vodafone Group fell 1.58%, having rallied on Monday on reports the telecoms company was being targeted by activist investor Cevian.
 
Cineworld was 4.03% weaker as the cinema company said it had begun talks with former shareholders of its Regal Entertainment division in the US over a potential rescheduling of its payment obligations.

What’s happening today?

AGMs
Edin.wwide Inv
Premier Miton
Imperial Brands

Trading announcements
Glencore
Vodafone
Severn Trent

Intl economic announcements
(15:30) Crude Oil Inventories (US)
(12:00) MBA Mortgage Applications (US)
(10:00) Producer Price Index (EU)
(15:00) ISM Manufacturing (US)
(00:01) BRC Shop Price Index
(15:30) Crude Oil Inventories (US)
(12:00) MBA Mortgage Applications (US)
(10:00) Producer Price Index (EU)

Source: Financial Times

did you know

Nineteen years and 255 days after their first appearance in Spider-Man (2002), actors Tobey Maguire, aged 46, and Willem Dafoe, 66, have broken the record for the longest career as a live-action Marvel character. (Source: Guinness World Record)

Parliamentary highlights

House of Commons

Oral questions
Scotland
 
Prime Minister
 
Ten Minute Rule Motion
Carbon Emissions (Buildings)
 
Legislation
Finance (No. 2) Bill: remaining stages
 
Adjournment
Army Reserve

House of Lords 

Oral questions
Consequences of current passport and visa requirements on the number of school trips from continental Europe to the UK
 
Assessment of the recent work of the Independent Office for Police Conduct
 
Steps to tackle power of attorney being used as a form of economic abuse that disproportionately affects older people
 
The evacuation of Pen Farthing and his animals from Kabul
 
Legislation
Building Safety Bill – second reading
 
Orders and regulations
Draft Surveillance Camera Code of Practice 2021 – motion to regret

Scottish parliament 

Portfolio Questions
Covid-19 Recovery and Parliamentary Business
 
Net Zero, Energy and Transport
 
Scottish Government Debate
Prevention of Homelessness Duties
 
Scottish Rate Resolution
 
Approval of SSIs (if required)
 
Members’ Business
S6M-02784 Evelyn Tweed: Response to Storm Arwen in Stirling and Future Resilience Planning

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